Momentum is one of the most important factors to consider when handicapping college football games. Every coach strives to have their team peak at the right time of year. With the season winding down, and championship games on deck, there’s no better time to be "on a roll" than now.
Here are four college football games that momentum will play a major factor in this weekend:
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Wisconsin Badgers (+2.5)
The Huskers will square off against Wisconsin in Indianapolis Saturday after winning six straight since a loss at Ohio State. Stud RB Rex Burkhead (knee) returned to score the go-ahead touchdown in Nebraska’s 13-7 victory over Iowa last week and with one more Big Ten victory, the Huskers are headed to the Rose Bowl. Nebraska finished with a 7-1 conference mark for the first time since 2001, when it posted the same mark in the Big 12.
Wisconsin dropped its second straight contest with an overtime defeat to Penn State Saturday- not the kind of momentum coach Bret Bielema was hoping for entering this week's Big Ten title game. The Badgers finished the regular season in third place in the Leaders Division, but still claimed the title game berth because the two teams ahead of them (Ohio State and Penn State) are ineligible due to sanctions. To make matters worse, Wisconsin has some injury concerns. Star linebacker Chris Borland is battling with a right hamstring injury and leading receiver Jared Abbrederis sustained a head injury late in Saturday’s loss to Penn State.
The Huskers edged Wisconsin 30-27 back on Sept. 29. Nebraska scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to seize momentum and earn the come-from-behind victory.
UCLA Bruins at Stanford Cardinal (-9)
These teams will meet for the second time in six days to battle it out for the Pac-12 championship. A week after Stanford stunned Oregon in overtime, the Cardinal destroyed the Bruins 35-17 at the Rose Bowl Saturday to seal the North Division title and set up a rematch this week. Stanford has won six straight (including three wins over ranked opponents) behind a run defense (71.7 YPG) that is the tops in the nation.
UCLA was riding some serious momentum before running into the brick wall that is Stanford. Jim Mora had previously led the Bruins to the program’s longest winning streak in seven years with a five-game run that included a 38-28 victory over cross-town rival USC. The key to UCLA bouncing back will be its ability to protect QB Brett Hundley, who was sacked seven times last week.
Oklahoma State Cowboys at Baylor Bears (+4.5)
The Bears became bowl eligible for the third straight season with a 52-45 overtime win over Texas Tech at Cowboys Stadium Saturday. After opening league play with four straight losses, Baylor’s worst fears seemed to be coming true a few weeks ago when they were only a loss away from sole possession of the Big 12 cellar. But the Bears stormed back to win three of four, including a stunning upset over then No. 1 Kansas State. The Baylor offense has been unstoppable over its last two games, posting back-to-back 52-point performances.
If Oklahoma State can win at Baylor, it will have overcome a brutal injury-plagued season to get to a decent bowl and win eight or more games. The Cowboys led by as many as 11 points, but could never put the Sooners away Saturday. Despite the loss, the Cowboys offense continues to roll, averaging 54 points over the past three games. Oklahoma State has been eliminated from consideration for a BCS bowl, but is playing for a possible spot in the Alamo or Cotton Bowl.
Pittsburgh Panthers at South Florida Bulls (+6)
The Panthers have shown an incredible ability to play up against their
best competition this season, but also a tendency to play poorly against
the lesser teams on their schedule. Pitt is coming off a huge victory
over Rutgers (its second win against a ranked opponent at the time),
just two weeks after taking Notre dame to triple overtime. The
Panthers have an opportunity to become bowl eligible with a victory and
won’t be lacking motivation this weekend.
South Florida struggled behind redshirt freshman Matt Floyd, the third-string QB on the roster, in a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati on Friday. The Bulls have dropped nine of their last 10 and are plagued with injuries. First-string QB B.J. Daniels broke his left ankle on Nov. 3. And then Junior Bobby Eveld stepped in and separated his left shoulder in the first quarter of 40-9 loss to Miami on Nov.17. To make matters worse, the Bulls also lost WR Terrence Mitchell on Friday after he collided with a Bearcats defender and needed to be helped off the field. The game ended with a nasty exchange in front of the Cincinnati bench. Officials and coaches needed to intervene and calm a clearly frustrated South Florida squad.